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Learn Japanese Culture - Valentine’s Day in Japan

Many of our readers are probably familiar with Valentine’s Day, and even celebrate it in their home country. Valentine’s Day probably conjures up images of hearts, red roses, Valentine candy, and maybe even the cute little Valentine’s Day cards you used to exchange in elementary school.

 But do you know how Valentine’s Day works in Japan? The Japanese Valentine’s Day has its own set of unique customs and rules that set it apart from the holiday celebrated around the world.

 First of all, while in western countries it is common for both men and women to give gifts on Valentine’s Day, in Japan, the gift-giving is left strictly to the women. Girls and women give chocolate (either handmade or store-bought) to a significant other or someone they are interested in. Surprisingly, though, women do not give chocolate only to that special someone they are interested in romantically, which is known as 本命チョコ (honmei choko, “chocolate for someone special”). There is also a tradition of giving chocolate to platonic male friends, co-workers, and bosses. This chocolate is given out of obligation, which is reflected in the name, 義理チョコ (giri choko, “obligation chocolate”).

So, do the girls walk away with nothing, you may wonder? Not quite. Lately on Valentine’s Day, many women decide to give chocolate to their female friends, which is known as
友チョコ(tomo-choko, “friend chocolate”), or even buy chocolate for themselves, known as マイチョコ (mai-choko, “my chocolate”). The main event for women, however, takes place on March 14th, one month after Valentine’s Day. This marks White Day, a day where men give chocolate back to the women they received chocolate from a month earlier. White Day was created by the Japanese National Confectionary Industry Association in 1980 as a way to sell more sweets such as candies. Surprisingly, gifts of flowers, non-chocolate candies, and dinner dates that are strongly associated with Valentine’s Day in Western countries are uncommon in Japan.

 What do you think about the Japanese way of celebrating Valentine’s Day? What kind of Valentine’s Day traditions do you celebrate in your country?

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